For more than 13 years, Mason linguistics professor and phonologist Steven Weinberger has administered the Speech Accent Archive, an online resource with hundreds of voice samples from native and non-native English speakers.

The site, which receives over one million hits per month, lets visitors recognize and compare the world’s accents.

Weinberger created the site after deeming it beneficial to students taking his English phonetics courses. All linguistics majors at Mason use the website to conduct research or to help improve site fluidity.

“We needed to know what non-native speakers sounded like,” said Weinberger. “Actors who are learning an accent, speech pathologists and linguists find the website to be valuable. It’s also good for everyday people who are interested in the way different people talk. The beauty is that everyone is reading the same paragraph, so you can easily make comparisons.”

The website allows nearly anyone in the world to submit samples of themselves reading a standard passage. The speakers must first fill out a short form that provides information on their native language background.

After the recordings are collected, Mason linguistics students work to organize and sort the information based on the speaker’s age, the birthplace of the speaker or the natural tongue of the speaker.

“We study more than 250 languages and see how they are similar,” said Justin Voigt, an instructor at the English Language Institute at Mason. “We find the allowable sounds of other languages and use those to compare to those in English. Once they say the paragraph, we record them and we measure the sounds they make.

The samples illustrate that accents do not mean that the speaker is incompetent.

“Humans are naturally biased. They think their way of speaking is the best. I think this perception comes from fear of others— we all fear someone who looks, acts or sounds different,” Weinberger said.

The Speech Accent Archive is always looking for new participants and it’s never too late to learn something new, according to Weinberger and Voigt.

“We’re soon going to ask for students to participate. We’re starting a big accent drive,” Weinberger said.

Voigt was initially an English major, but switched his focus to linguistics after discovering his interest in languages.

“I think English majors should take linguistics courses. They’ll be able to understand how sounds work and, in turn, become better writers,” said Voigt.